La Monja

April 15, 2013

Two months ago Los Federales (the Federal Police) broke into our house and arrested my youngest brother. First, they accused him of stealing an auto, then later of exporting arms and finally of importing arms. Instead of protecting us, the federal police do us harm. This was the third time Los Federales had broken into our home at night. On the first and second occasions, they simply came to rob and destroy.

Juan, Guadalupe nd Columban Father Michael Donnelly

They came by night and forced in the door, entered without a warrant, destroyed much of our furniture, physically attacked the men of our family and insulted the women. Then they took what they thought they might use or sell. They act this way in many parts of Juárez, and residents are afraid to protest. The police abuse their authority with impunity, and no officer admits to being in charge of the operation.

After the second police incursion into our homes (our extended family lives in seven adjacent houses on one block of our barrio; other neighbors were treated the same way) I denounced publicly and judicially what they had done. After that the police came and took my brother away.

My brother was in prison for three days where he was tortured with electricity and other methods that left him traumatized. He is afraid to open the door of the house when someone knocks and has an incredible fear of the police. Yet he is determined to meet them face to face and say what they did to him. Despite their intimidation he will not give in; he is only 18 years of age.

Our initial reaction to the police abuse was fear. Some neighbors left the area. We also thought of leaving. We did not know how we might effectively protest against the state. We know that the police and other state institutions, such as the judiciary, are together in this. They look out for the well-being of each other, not that of the citizens.

Initially we made no progress with our case against the police. We were merely forced to deal with more abuse as they arrested, accused and tortured my young brother. So, we organized a public protest with placards outside the law courts. I have a large extended family and a few neighbors also joined us even though many were afraid to join with us. Still it was an important step, and we got coverage in the press.

I suppose the police never expected us to push ahead with the protest and, even though we live in hope, have much faith in God and find lots of support in our Church community, we cannot be sure that our protest will prosper. The matter is being dealt with by the judiciary.

I feel that God is with me in this struggle in a variety of ways. My husband, Juan, is like a rock. He does not talk much, but I feel such strength knowing that he is with me. After the second police incursion into our home Columban Fr. Kevin Mullins sent me to a diocesan human rights course where I learned about our rights and what we might do to protect them. In fact, while I was participating in the workshop on human rights, I decided to organize the public protest in front of the law courts. I also met men and women from other parishes in Juárez who encouraged me and promised support in our struggle.

When I was afraid I talked with Fr. Miguel and he encouraged me and helped me continue. He also helped me pay the lawyer who is looking after our case. Economically our family has suffered; my father lost his job as he was frequently absent from work attending to my young brother’s case. However, as time has passed we have found ever more support in our community and in our Church. I really feel that God is with us.

I don’t have any special qualifications, nor does my husband. As well as driving a truck he can fix anything, so he is always ready to give a hand around the house and also in our chapel of San Juan Bautista. We have four children and one granddaughter. I look after the home while my husband earns the money necessary to keep our family. I have always been very religious, but only since we have had this trouble with the police abuse have other family members begun to take an interest in our Catholic faith. They ask me about the rosary, the Bible and many other things as they find ways of making our faith their own. My family has nicknamed me la monja, the nun!

This article originally appeared in the Columban Mission Magazine (March/April 2013).